Worried about possible contracting irregularities, the General Services Administration has launched a "Get It Right" campaign aimed at ensuring that federal agencies follow procurement regulations.

"Non-compliance is unacceptable," the GSA said in a statement.

Stephen A. Perry, head of the GSA, and Deidre Lee, the Pentagon's director of procurement and acquisition policy, announced the initiative Tuesday at a meeting of procurement and contracting personnel.

Members of Congress have expressed concern that some agencies may be using contracts negotiated on behalf of the government by the GSA for purposes outside their scope or intent. For example, a recent controversy involved the use of a technology contract to hire private-sector interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The GSA also has faced questions about possible inappropriate contracting activities by its Federal Technology Service. According to a recent report to Congress by the GSA inspector general, auditors found improper sole source contracts, misuse of small business contracts and orders for work outside the purpose of the contract.

"We are taking seriously that there have been some problems," said Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman. "Mr. Perry believes that there needs to be full compliance with rules and regulations."

The "Get It Right" plan calls for the GSA to more actively supervise its contract services and undertake "a fully integrated approach to assessing regulatory compliance." One of the plan's goals is to make contracting policies and procedures "clear and explicit" to federal agencies and vendors.

The GSA said it plans to "educate and train the acquisition workforce on the proper use of GSA's contract vehicles and services." Steps are being taken to establish new employee performance standards "to ensure quality acquisitions," the GSA said.

The House Government Reform Committee will hold its fourth hearing on Iraqi reconstruction contracts July 22. David Marin, a spokesman for the committee's chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), called the GSA initiative "a welcomed and positive step that complements the oversight Mr. Davis is conducting."

Transit Upgrade at Labor?

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved an amendment, sponsored by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), that would direct the Labor Department to increase the transit subsidy for its employees from $65 a month to $100.

Moran's amendment to the fiscal 2005 spending bill for the department, approved on a voice vote, would order Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to raise the subsidy without requiring existing labor contracts to be renegotiated.

Local 12 of the American Federation of Government Employees has urged Chao to increase the subsidy in keeping with an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Most Washington area agencies provide the tax break as a way of getting cars off the road.

The department has maintained that the transit subsidy should be determined through talks on a new union contract. The department made a $100-a-month benefit available to its nonunion employees at the start of 2002.

Few Probation Firings

By most accounts, the easiest time to fire federal employees is while they are on probation, usually their first year on the job. But relatively few are let go, according to a recent "Issues of Merit" newsletter published by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears appeals from employees facing discipline.

The board's Office of Policy and Evaluation looked at more than 145,000 federal hires in fiscal 2001 and 2002 and found that fewer than 5,000 -- or about 3 percent -- were terminated because of unsatisfactory job performance or misconduct.

About 16 percent of the employees hired during those years also "quit or moved on during the probationary period," the newsletter reported. (Perhaps they got a hint from the boss to leave?)

With agencies under pressure to operate more efficiently, the newsletter noted, "Agencies can no longer afford to tolerate the burden of marginal performers. Supervisors need to take seriously their responsibility to remove under-performers during the probationary period."

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com